by David Sisler

So many books. So little time.

Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Anatole Broyard said, "A good book is never exhausted. It goes on whispering to you from the wall. Books perfume and give weight to a room."

Louis L'Amour wrote, "The book has been man's greatest triumph. Seated in my library, I live in a time machine. In an instant I can be transmitted to any era, any be part of the world, even to outer space... Best of all, I can do it all again, at any moment. The books are there. I have only to reach up to the shelves and take them down to relive the moments I have loved."

Three times in the last 20 years, and for three different publications, I have written an article entitled, "If I Had Only One Book." I imagine myself stranded in some isolated place, knowing before hand that I would be so banished, and allowed to choose only one book. Then I add other titles, if my banishers permit it.

Some titles are on all three lists. Some only made one edition. But if I could have only one book, it would be the Bible. Almost every time a new English version appears, I add it to my collection. My current favorite is the New Century Version. This translation eliminates the often-heard excuse, "I don't read the Bible because I can't understand it." The newly released KJ21 (King James for the 21st Century) also deserves attention.

My second pick has always been any of the 63 volumes from Charles Haddon Spurgeon's The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit. Spurgeon pastored the same church for 38 years, publishing a sermon a week, and after he died, 25 more annual volumes were printed. "The Prince of Preachers" still speaks today, the unchanging message of Jesus of Nazareth.

Sales at the four major bookstore chains, according to Publishers Weekly, rose 18.9%, to $1.1 billion, for the third quarter of this year. The market for religious books continues to be a leader in the industry. If you are looking for, as they say, a good read, or a title for a bibliophile, you may want to consider a few selections from my 1996 list.

Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy & Fairy Tale, by Frederick Buechner presents the Gospels as an "unblinking reflection of everyday reality." Picture Pontius Pilate as an executive who rides to work in a limousine and smokes three packs a day. Read the parables as divine humor. Watch the preacher climb the steps to the pulpit and deal out his note cards like a river boat gambler. High stakes. Great book. My next time through Telling the Truth will be my sixth.

Pray! Don't Settle for a Two-Bit Prayer Life, by Ben Haden pointedly asks, "If you stopped praying, would it radically affect your life. You say, ‘No, not really.' Then why do you pray at all?"

The Autobiography of God, by Lloyd John Olgive is worth the price if all you read is his retelling of the story we call "The Prodigal Son." He calls it "The Prodigal God."

Try Martin Lloyd-Jones's seven volume set on Paul's letter to the Ephesians. William Barclay's The Daily Study Bible Series is a must have. Get your hands dusty in a used book store, if need be, and buy anything written by Clovis Chappell, Vance Havner, John Henry Jowett, G. Campbell Morgan, John Phillips, Charles J. Rolls, W. E. Sangster, John R. W. Stott, and T. Dewitt Talmadge.

In the Grip of Grace, by Max Lucado, made Publishers Weeks top religious picks for 1996, and deservedly so. If you have never read anything purchased from a Christian bookstore, I dare you to read the chapter titled, "The Parable of the River."

Three Gospels, by Reynolds Price, is also one of the best religious books of this year. "If the gospels did not concern the life of someone with alleged divine origins," Price writes, "most students would have long since accepted the early testimony." Price gives his own fascinating translations of Mark and John and then lays out his personal examination of the life of Jesus, a life as important to the shape of our world as any in the history of the human race.

You may not agree with everything, or perhaps anything, these writers pen, but if they force you to think for yourself, it will have been money well spent.

Because "man does not live by bread alone" I have always included in my list The Star Trek Reader, by James Blish. This year I am adding, Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, written by T.S. Eliot for his godchildren and set to music as "Cats" by Andrew Lloyd Weber.

But if I had only one book, it would be the Bible. John said that if everything Jesus did was written down, the world would be too small to contain all of the books. God's book is still the best read on the planet.


Published in the Augusta Chronicle 12/14/96

Copyright 1996 by David Sisler

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